Visitors to the ASIAGRAPH 2007 exhibition held in Tokyo this weekend will have witnessed what is probably the most innovative use of robotics to date in the shape of a green-skinned mannequin that can take on virtually any appearance.

The secret behind the chameleon-like ability of ' U-Tsu-Shi-O-Mi' is a piece of virtual-reality software that projects images onto the green covering of the robot in the same way special effects are created in movies. The resulting avatar is viewed through a connected head-mounted video display.

Forced feedback

When the real-time moving images are matched to movements made by the robot, the result is a virtual humanoid projected onto a real body that can not only be touched, but which can also respond to being poked and prodded.

As the video available here [MPEG link] shows, U-Tsu-Shi-O-Mi is not only a stunning piece of engineering, but is also more than a little creepy. That's probably due to the creator's choice of a simpering saccharine-sweet receptionist to demonstrate the technology, but the possibilities for the system are clearly manifold.

Developer Michihiko Shoji of Yokohama National University Venture Business Laboratory believes the system could be used in future videogames, but is also hoping to develop a version that might function as a personal companion of sorts. As he's currently seeking sponsors to continue the project, anyone with a bit of cash to spare and not enough real friends might want to get in touch via his website.